The number of UK pension schemes retendering for investment consulting services has sharply declined over the past decade, according to a survey by an independent selection specialist.

IC Select survey of 1,000 schemes found that about 2.7% last year reviewed their investment consulting services by way of a retender. This is slightly above the two previous years but far below levels in 2008, when the figure was 18.6%, according to the Edinburgh-based firm. In 2015 the share was 1.6% and in 2016 2.5%.

There was also a steady decline in the number of schemes changing their investment consultant, according to IC Select. In 2017 1.5% of schemes had switched consultant, while in 2008 11% had done so. IC Select said the changes stripped out scheme mergers and entries into the Pension Protection Fund (PPF), the UK’s pension lifeboat fund.

Peter Dorward, managing director of IC Select, said: “It is surprising the level of tender activity over the last three years has been so low. “This follows the spread of de-risking plans, which has added to the complexity of investment affairs and, potentially, ties schemes more closely to incumbent advisers.”

Donny Hay, director at IC Select, added that the results were surprising because investment was one of the most difficult areas for trustees to get right but also one of the most important for trustees and sponsors. “If you don’t get the investment strategy right you end up paying a lot more in deficit recovery contributions, which sponsors don’t like, and if it goes wrong for members and you end up in the PPF members get a lot less than they’re entitled to when they retire,” he said.

Publication of IC Select’s survey results comes as the UK’s competition watchdog is carrying out an investigation of the investment consultancy sector. The results of the review are due to be published in July but in a series of working papers the Competition Markets Authority (CMA) has been setting out provisional findings about various aspects of its inquiry.

Tendering is one of the indicators the CMA is using to gauge pension schemes’ engagement with investment consultancy and fiduciary management – other indicators are using a third-party evaluator or having a professional trustee. In its most recent paper the authority said it was finding that engaged schemes were able to secure investment consultant and fiduciary management services more cheaply than those schemes who were disengaged.

Other emerging findings from the CMA include that there is evidence of poor competition in the sector, that trustees may struggle to assess the value for money of their incumbent consultant or fiduciary manager, and that trustees may be being steered to use fiduciary management services run by their investment consultants.

IC Select launched a performance measurement standard, backed by 14 providers, in April to help pension schemes compare the skills of fiduciary managers.